“Hollywood Homicide” is the sort of star-driven seasonal trifle that serves as a complacency test for the moviegoing audience. While never as expert or streamlined as it ought to be, this update of the police buddy comedy is self-evidently escapist and frivolous. So, it seems rather unsporting and picky to expect something genuinely clever and decisively satisfying, even from collaborators as seasoned as leading man Harrison Ford and writer-director Ron Shelton.
A deliberate about-face from Mr. Shelton’s recent “Dark Blue,” a luridly solemn and apologetic portrait of a corrupt L.A. police detective, “Hollywood Homicide” matches Mr. Ford with Josh Harnett as senior-junior partners and mavericks in the robbery-homicide division. Their ostensible big case involves finding the killers who massacred several people at a fashionable nightclub. The culprits are never in doubt, but the potentially novel and explosive aspect of the plot is trivialized: murderous rivalries in the pop-music business.
This “angle” obviously is suggested by authentic crimes that have cast further suspicion on members of the L.A. Police Department. Evidently, there are cops who owe more loyalty to despotic industry moguls than to the public at large. This compromising situation is poorly suited to the humorous tilt of the screenplay contrived by Mr. Shelton in collaboration with Robert Souza, a retired LAPD veteran — indeed, he is the former partner of Tom Lange, who acquired a tight-lipped national identity while supervising the investigation of the O.J. Simpson case.
The abiding running gag in “Hollywood Homicide” is that L.A. cops moonlight a lot. Evidently this is true, owing to the fact that detectives accrue more overtime than the city can afford. Accumulating generous leave as compensation, the police often work second or third jobs while away from the precinct.
It’s more convenient for the movie to depict Mr. Ford’s Joe Gavilan and Mr. Hartnett’s K.C. Calden juggling second jobs between questioning murder suspects and chasing bad guys. Joe is a debt-ridden real estate broker hoping to negotiate the sale of a modest Hollywood abode in the $6 million to $7 million range. During and between chases, he’s on the cellular phone, struggling to reconcile seller Martin Landau with potential buyer Master P.
Young K.C., the overcompensating son of a policeman who was betrayed by a partner, can’t really conduct two professions at once because his sidelight is yoga instruction to classes of beaming and conspicuously fit starlets, but police duty sometimes obliges him to dismiss a class early. Like Eddie Murphy in “Showtime,” he also has acting aspirations. Because K.C. is preparing to audition the role of Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Mr. Hartnett is permitted a facetious impression of vintage Marlon Brando.
The inadequacies of this notion are less embarrassing than they might be. The acting wheeze pays off a bit late, during an epilogue in which we view a few moments from a production of “Streetcar” supposedly mounted by K.C. Mr. Hartnett was allowed to stage it, and he gets an amusing brainstorm or two about screwball casting and blocking.
In retrospect, I have begun to wonder if it would have been cagey of Mr. Shelton to assign a few other scenes to Mr. Hartnett. The prolonged final chase, for example, seems to last a misspent moviegoing lifetime. What Mr. Hartnett does in a static setting is funnier than what Mr. Shelton and his assistants cook up while cast members are behind the wheel or on the run.
It is a pleasant surprise to encounter Lena Olin in a lighthearted role: as Joe Gavilan’s consort, a radio talk hostess who deals in romantic advice. The character, Ruby, is tarted up unnecessarily by being identified as a former consort of Joe’s nemesis, an Internal Affairs snoop played by Bruce Greenwood. This is an example of how linking subplots can boomerang on screenwriters. The romantic-comedy benevolence embodied in the scenes between Mr. Ford and Miss Olin ought to remain unsullied by the hint that Ruby has passed from hand to hand in the police department. How difficult would it be for real pros to think of a beguiling explanation for the way Joe and Ruby became a match?
While Joe struggles to broker his real estate deal, “Hollywood Homicide” does derive generous scenic advantage from L.A. real estate, ranging from such rarely photographed sites as the Venice neighborhoods that actually have canals to such frequently photographed sites as Hollywood Boulevard in the vicinity of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. If the movie catches on, the backdrops may attract a fresh wave of tourists hoping to re-trace the stomping grounds of Joe and K.C. It’s quite possible that Ron Shelton will be responsible for another generation of congestion on the photogenic streets of Los Angeles.
TITLE: “Hollywood Homicide”
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional graphic violence; fleeting profanity and sexual candor)
CREDITS: Directed by Ron Shelton. Screenplay by Robert Souza and Mr. Shelton.
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS